House lawmakers on Wednesday strongly rejected a proposal to rapidly withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq, a move supporters say was designed to force public debate on America's 10 months of unauthorized military operations against Islamic militants in the region.
Critics called the move a blunt and potentially dangerous military reversal for the 3,500-plus U.S. troops now working alongside Iraqi security forces in the region. It would have required the removal of all personnel within 30 days, with caveats for a potential six-month delay in that deadline to ensure their safety.
The measure failed, 193 to 288, with only 19 Republicans backing the idea and 66 Democrats blocking the move.
Resolution sponsor Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., noted that airstrikes and military advisory missions have been running for more than 300 days without permission from Congress, despite multiple requests to the White House for a new authorization for use of military force.
"This resolution would have no standing if we had an AUMF," McGovern said. "What do we have to do to force the leadership to bring one to the floor? I don't know what else it will take to force this issue."
Lawmakers have sparred over the subject since February, when President Obama offered his own draft authorization language to Congress. Conservatives complained that proposal was too limiting, while Democrats worried the president's measure could too easily lead to endless involvement in another Middle East war.
All the while, White House officials have said they would prefer a new force authorization vote but believe they have the legal standing to launch military missions in the region without one, based on congressional permissions granted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
McGovern and his supporters called the lack of action on the new Iraq operations an abdication of congressional responsibility, and a troublesome precedent for future executive branch military decisions. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., charged that the military operations are "probably unconstitutional."
But a parade of lawmakers took two hours Wednesday to roundly pan the withdrawal order, calling it misguided and confused.
Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., said it was "foolhardy" to take pressure off Islamic State fighters advancing in the region. Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., called the plan "cutting off your nose to spite your face."
Republican and Democratic leaders have repeatedly stated that passing a new force authorization should be a top priority for Congress, but neither party or chamber has mapped out a realistic path forward on the issue.
Earlier this month, House lawmakers approved language in the annual defense authorization bill that offered nonbinding language stating Congress has a responsibility to act on the issue, but offered no further instruction.